Ann Marie Buerkle exits congressional stage, still a freshman

Alexis Levinson Political Reporter
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Ann Marie Buerkle arrived in Washington two years ago as a freshman member of Congress — and in January, she will leave, still a freshman.

The New York Republican, the first woman to hold her seat, lost in November after drawing the short straw in her state’s redistricting.

She leaves with “mixed feelings,” she told The Daily Caller in a phone interview, both sadness and excitement for whatever might come next.

“This was truly one of the greatest honors,” she said of her two years in office.

The past month has been a bit different from the previous 23 months she served in Congress. Though the daily committee work and votes continue, she has been moved out of her office and into temporary cubicles set up in the cafeteria in the Rayburn, House Office Building. She now works mostly out of her apartment, which is near enough to the Capitol to commute back and forth.

Other than that, she is spending her final weeks “making sure the district office takes care of any constituent issues” and fulfilling her committee duties. A bill “near and dear to [her] heart” passed the Senate last week: It names a post office in her district after a Marine who was killed serving in Afghanistan.

She has also been working to find her staffers new jobs.

Last week was a busy week for other reasons, as negotiations continued between President Barack Obama and Speaker of the House John Boehner to reach a deal to avert the fiscal cliff. The House saw a lot of activity as Boehner tried, and failed, to pass his “Plan B,” a back-up plan in case negotiations didn’t go well, which would have raised taxes on those making over $1 million a year.

The plan collapsed when Boehner realized he lacked the votes within his own caucus to pass a bill, a bill that House Democrats had vowed to vote against. Boehner opted to not even bring it to a vote.

Buerkle was one Republican who would have voted “no” on Plan B.

“Leadership knew my concerns with regards to that ‘Plan B,'” she said. “My concern was that it was going to go over to the Senate and they weren’t going to vote on it, they weren’t going to take it up, and if they did, it would come back with much lower rates,” and without dealing with spending cuts.

She faults President Obama and the Democratic Senate for a lack of action, but more importantly, a lack of “will to make those cuts” she believes are necessary.

One person she does not fault is Speaker Boehner.

Though it has been suggested that Boehner could face a challenge to his speakership next year by the more conservative wing of his caucus, Buerkle, one of those who rebelled against his Plan B, described him as a “good leader” who was doing the right things.

Not bringing Plan B to the House floor, she said, was “the best course of action” since he did not have the votes to pass it.

“He just did a very smart thing; he just took a step back,” she said.

That he could not find the necessary votes, she said, had nothing to do with a rejection of his leadership, but with “a difference among the members as to whether or not they would be willing to change the tax rates. That was the issue, and many were not willing to do that.”

Buerkle is in the camp that believes that not raising taxes is a core tenet of the Republican Party, from which legislators should not stray.

“The Republican Party has to be true to its principles and who we are as a party,” she said, focusing on less government and lower taxes, something she said was a “big part of the discussion” Thursday evening before Boehner called off the Plan B vote.

“When a Republican Party adheres to those principles, they do better,” she said. “Now it can be painful to do that because sometimes you’re accursed of being stubborn, you don’t want to compromise,” she said. But ultimately, she reiterated, things work out better when you stand on principle.

That, in part, is what she’d like people to remember about her brief time in Congress.

“Many of us in the freshman class who came down here not looking for a job,” just with the intention of “doing what we believe is right for this country,” she said.

During her tenure, she said, she and her colleagues continued to “stand for what we came down here to do.”

“One of the highest honors of this job,” she said, was serving as the chairwoman on the subcommittee for Health for Veterans. Getting to be an “advocate” for veterans and “make sure our veterans and the men and women in the military have exactly what they need,” she said, “I don’t know if there’s a better cause than that.”

As for what comes next, Buerkle is unsure. When her term ends in January, “I will take a few weeks to step back and assess where I’m at and where I will go from here,” which could be either in the political realm or in the private sector.

“In some way, shape or form,” she said, “I intend to continue with those efforts” that brought her to Congress — ensuring the country is strong and is going in the right “direction.”

Normally, Buerkle would have headed to Texas in the days before Christmas to visit the three of her six children who live there. Instead, she went straight home to upstate New York, where she’ll see the “couple children who will be home for Christmas.”

“I expect to spend Christmas there, and also expect to hear from leadership,” she said. “I’m assuming we’ll be back here after Christmas.”

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